VIRGINIA BEACH — Nestled between Blackwater and Pungo you’ll find the North Landing River, a winding waterway that runs from the North Carolina border through the southern half of Virginia Beach — a man-made channel of the Intercoastal Waterway connects it to the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake.
With little boat traffic or industry compared to the Elizabeth, the North Landing feels secluded, with marshland sounds and river life the only available soundtrack.
The North Landing River’s secluded natural beauty first drew Erik Moore to its banks as a photographer years ago — and it’s that same mystique that moved him to start a business providing private boat tours of the river, as well as Back Bay.
“Moore to See” is his new business, which specializes in environmental and scenic boat tours for up to four passengers at a time.
“The vast majority of people in our area have little to no idea how beautiful and unique the backwaters of Virginia Beach can be,” said Moore, who is a Coast Guard certified captain, licensed and insured to provide the tours.
‘The green sea’
Historically, the area has been known as “the green sea,” a term used by William Byrd II. According to the history book The Wild Coast: Exploring the Natural Attractions of the Mid-Atlantic, Byrd described the thousands of acres of marsh blowing in the breeze as “a vast green sea” while surveying the area in 1729. The term stuck.
The endless clumps of marshland still guard the riverbanks, while gnarled, skinny trees grasp at the horizon. Orphaned tree stumps sometimes stand alone mid-river — evidence of erosion, Moore said.
“Bald Cyprus trees won’t germinate under water nor on dry soil,” Moore said, pointing to a Cyprus 50 feet from the riverbank. The soil underneath them must remain saturated, much like the land around the river, he added.
Related story: On the water’s edge: Photography brings this river to life
Moore’s knowledge of the river and its surrounding land came from years of self-study, although he also has a degree in geography.
More than a quarter of the North Landing River Watershed is protected from development because of land acquisitions or conservation easements arranged by governments and nonprofit groups, according to a report from the Nature Conservancy. This, Moore said, is another reason why exploring the area by boat is so unique — because it is, for the most part, largely untainted.
River life past, bird life present
Moore simultaneously operates the boat while discussing the history of the river and identifying bird species overhead and over yonder.
“That’s an osprey nest up there,” Moore said, pointing to a bundle of sticks atop a wood piling in the river. “There’s probably an eagle close by. It’s not uncommon to find an eagle in a nearby tree waiting to harass an osprey returning with fish.”
Within a few minutes, an eagle appears, but only for a moment.
“They are much more hesitant of humans than osprey are,” Moore said. “Eagles won’t fly quite as close to your boat.”
Moore sees both locals and visitors finding value in the “eco-tourism” that his river excursions offer.
“Tourists spend most of their time facing east on the beach,” Moore said, “but the more scenic areas are behind them in our bays and rivers and creeks. It’s an environmental wonderland ripe for exploration and photography.”